Bristol Remembers its Dinosaur

By | February 17th, 2011|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Main Page|0 Comments

Thecodontosaurus Remembered in Bristol

With all the amazing dinosaur discoveries in exotic places such as South America, the Badlands of America and remote areas of China, it is difficult to believe that some of the very first dinosaur discoveries were made in England.  Take the Triassic Sauropodomorph Thecodontosaurus (T. antiquus et al) for example.

Thecodontosaurus fossils have been found in an number of locations in England, but the first evidence for this two-metre-long, Late Triassic dinosaur was discovered in 1834 when a partial jawbone and some teeth were found in limestone deposits at a quarry on Durdham Downs, a site just north of what is now Bristol’s bustling city centre.

We were in Bristol at the beginning of the year, it was very chilly and it was difficult to comprehend that back in the Late Triassic (Norian faunal stage), around 212 million years ago or so, this part of the world was a lush tropical paradise, superficially resembling the Caribbean of today.  The area that was to become Bristol was covered by low lying islands, set in a warm shallow sea that teemed with life.  Living on the islands was the little, herbivore Thecodontosaurus, an ancestor of the giants of the Jurassic such as Diplodocus and Apatosaurus.

To read more about Bristol’s tropical past: New Insights into Thecodontosaurus

Thecodontosaurus was only the fourth dinosaur genus to be described (Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus preceded it), however, when the fossil bones were first examined it was thought too small to be a dinosaur.  It was only officially added to the Dinosauria Order after a review by Thomas Huxley in 1870.

Thecodontosaurus Fossils and Artist’s Reconstruction

Picture Credit: Simon Powell/University of Bristol

This agile little dinosaur had a small head, with plant-shearing teeth located in sockets in its narrow jaws.  It is from these teeth that Thecodontosaurus got its name (name means “socket-toothed lizard”).  The forelimbs were shorter than the hind-limbs.  This suggests that this dinosaur was a facultative biped, it normally walked on all fours but when required it could rear up and run on its hind legs.

This dinosaur was officially named and described by the Georgian geologists Samuel Stutchbury and Henry Riley in 1836.  Samuel Stutchbury was the curator of the Bristol Institution, this later became the city’s museum and Bristol is renowned throughout the world for its University with its very prominent departments and faculties specialising in Earth Sciences.

Samuel Stutchbury became a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, he is perhaps best remembered for this geological survey work of Australia.  He died in February 1859 and he was buried in Bristol’s Arnos Vale cemetery.  The cemetery staff have teamed up with Bristol University to host a series of events this month to commemorate his work and to remember Bristol’s very own dinosaur.

Some of the original fossil material can still be viewed at Bristol Museum, unfortunately, many of the earliest specimens handled by the likes of Stutchbury and Riley were destroyed by German bombing in World War Two.

Arnos Vale cemetery intends to hold a number of events throughout this year to commemorate the lives and achievements of people remembered or buried at the cemetery.